Jewish Journal

Rosh HaShana Secular Confessions

Ian Shulman

September 15, 2012 | 7:13 am

It’s Rosh HaShana Eve 5773 and I’m stuck in a dusky rainy city in the Northern Germany. Yesterday I got in touch with the local rabbi again, checked the prayer times and received a shiny wall calendar for the upcoming Jewish year. The rainy Jewish New Year’s Eve is on my mind.

Naming the holiday ‘the New Year’ instead of using it’s common Hebrew name puts it on a different level for me. An admired milestone of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish calendar turns to a clear and familiar image, year’s major event, the starting and the ending point. 2012 and 5773 suddenly start to look as two crucial points on two equally important scales.

Yet for me it was always like that. I got to a Jewish highschool when I was seven, where I suddenly realized that I have to let one more New Year to my calendar. Eating apples with honey in October and finding presents under the Christmas tree in January meant twice as much fun and didn’t contradict each other at all. Since then I was regularly updated. All I knew is that the Hebrew month of Tishrei starts somewhere between September and October and there is a Jewish community there to remind me when exactly is the festival. And Tishrei meant a holiday spirit in the air, just like our own rainy humid Jewish Christmas (though during my early schools years the real Christmas didn’t settle in the post-Soviet region yet and all ‘Christmas spirit’ responsibilities were carried out by the December 31st).

This was a period of an unimagined harmony between Judaism and Christianity, grounded on honest secularity. Christmas tree was a well-established tradition exclusively related to the New Year’s Eve and totally disconnected from Christmas by the Soviet regime. It gained a new, progressive, universal and secular image. Rosh HaShana alongside with other major holidays was a first hesitant attempt to get a feeling of how our grandparents used to live and to find some old and new friends.

Rosh HaShana is a high time to sum up the last year, but please allow me to refer back to the last decade. We became more independent, more self-aware, more heritage-aware, more progressive, more green. We started to live in two calendar years, in two traditions - the universal and the Jewish one. Last but not least - it’s been almost a decade now since my family bought a Christmas tree last.

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